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Nate rode. His horse seemed to trot as slowly as his heart beat painfully in his chest, and he wondered about the sanity of his decision.
Of course, he had no choice. It was either rot in that jail cell waiting to be extradited to a federal prison under the orders of the great and powerful newspaperman, Herbert Eversby, or to exile himself, with the agreement from his adversary, never to return home again. Rot, or live a life of exile--not much of a choice, so Nate took the lesser of two evils.
From the church, he could hear pump organ music drift up with the breeze as his horse clomped away from the hill above, and he knew Aggie was now married to someone else. Aggie! His Aggie was now Aggie Eversby-Pass.
He should never have tried to kill Herbert Eversby's grandson, Travis Pass. It was a mistake he made and regretted the minute he watched Travis fall into the stream at Aggie's feet. He regretted Aggie's scream. He regretted the blood that flowed with the water downstream to his boots. He hoped he'd never face regrets again. He wondered if his decision of self-exile to remain free was a mistake too, but it was too late for that. He signed the papers and now he was on his way somewhere, anywhere but General.
"You're drunk! You're drunk and I don't want any fights here. Not tonight. My friends are getting married in the morning." The bartender spoke with an authority that no man challenged.
Nate didn't care. He could barely see. He could hardly hold his glass, but at the mention of marriage, something set him off and he felt his blood begin to boil. "Yourfriend..." his slurred words halted the usual saloon noises and even the poker players in the corner took notice, "...your friend should be marryin' me!" Nate knew he spoke loud. Getting drunk did that to a man. Drunkenness also dulled the senses and, what Nate wanted most was dulled senses.
A girl in the corner drew a deep breath and turned to the men standing next to her. "Pa! I never seen that man before! I don't know him!" She turned to the other man. "It's not true!"
Nate couldn't focus, but he saw the worry in the blonde girl's motions when she spoke to her father and then turned to the young man beside her, and from somewhere, he remembered a girl with the same look and heard a silent scream echo across a stream. His heart twisted in his chest. "Aggie! You shouldn't marry Travis. I love you!" He stumbled toward the girl.
The man, who was the girl's father, stepped before Nate. "Listen, you rotten varmint! Her name ain't Aggie, and she don't know you. You had too much to drink. Why don't you just mosey home and put up for the night? Things'll be better once the whiskey wears off."
"Home?" Nate turned in a big circle like a bird with one broken wing. "I don' have a home."
Before he finished, he felt someone grab the back of his shirt and recklessly carry him across the room to the front door of the saloon. He almost felt the crash of the doors against his body as he flew through and landed face down in the dirt on the street. He wanted to roll over to get the sandy grit from his teeth but, his energy spent, he lay there and laughed a drunken giggle. He would hurt in the morning and he knew it, but his mission to get blinding, forgetful drunk was accomplished again. He could hardly remember the pain he held in the core of his soul when he lost Aggie. He'd remember tomorrow and he knew it. That was the problem with whiskey; it only worked for a little while.
From the fog surrounding him, he heard someone talk about him--the inebriated man in the street. He felt people haphazardly kick dirt against his legs as they stepped around him, and he wondered if being buried alive would be half-bad. He'd probably fall asleep and never wake up. That didn't sound so awful.
"Look here, boy," he heard God say from the fog. "You ain't never goin' to amount to anything lying drunk in the dirt. Let me help you up."
"Leave me be, God. You've lef' me be this long. Leave me to die," Nate rebutted the Lord defiantly.
"Now, son, you ain't goin' to die. You'll just feel mighty bad tomorrow and what good is that? Come on, I'll take you home."
"You took my home away, God. Don' you remember?" Nate remained face down in the dirt and he laughed. "Home's years ago and miles away. That's what you made me do."
"Well then, I'll take you to my place. Get up. You can't be lying here all night, someone'll run you down."
The thought of being run down appealed to Nate, then he wouldn't have to be buried alive, but when he heard God mention home, that bothered him. "Home to heaven or hell?" He rolled over and dust rose around him. He was glad it hadn't rained, otherwise he'd wake up with mud in places it should never be. That was always a pain. Getting rid of plain old dust, the kind that brushed off before he got on his horse and rode away, was much easier.
"When was the last time you ate, son?" God asked.
"Who cares? You? Where were you when she got married and I was in jail?" God didn't look anything like Nate expected. The God from his mother's Bible was dressed in flowing robes of gold and silver and his pointy finger held hellfire and damnation at bay behind angels with massive, gossamer wings. This real God, the one offering to take him home, was short and stout. Unshaven beard stubble framed his face as he smiled down. "Why you smiling? Am I that funny to you? What the hell'd you bring me here for? To laugh at me?"
"I'm smiling because ain't nobody thought I was God before, except an old whore someplace in Texas once, but that's another story. Get up. I ain't goin' to stand here all night."